Lions leave door open for Owen Farrell – even if he is not playing for England

British and Irish Lions' fly-half Owen Farrell reacts after his team scored a try during a rugby union tour match between the Sharks against the British and Irish Lions at the Ellis Park stadium in Johannesburg on July 7, 2021
Owen Farrell has stopped playing international rugby for now, but will he make a Lions return in 2025? - Getty Images/Phil Magakoe

The British and Irish Lions have left the door open to picking Owen Farrell for next summer’s tour to Australia, even if the fly-half is not playing for England.

At his unveiling as Lions head coach in London on Thursday, Andy Farrell said that he had not had any conversations with his son about his potential availability after the England captain announced that he was stepping away from international rugby late last year.

Despite giving no timeline on a potential return, the Saracens fly-half has already been installed as the bookmakers’ favourite to captain the Lions on what would be his fourth tour. Racing 92, who compete in the French Top 14, are confident of luring Farrell away from Saracens in the summer which would, under the Rugby Football Union regulations, make him ineligible for England selection. Depending on Racing’s involvement in the Top 14 play-offs next season, Farrell could also miss the Lions pre-tour training camp and their opening tour fixture against Western Force.

Northampton flanker Courtney Lawes has also been heavily linked with a move to France, where openside Jack Willis and winger Henry Arundell could also be in the mix for selection. Yet despite the Premiership moving its final forward to help the Lions’ preparations, chief executive Ben Calveley says that all players will be considered for selection regardless of where they are based.

“We don’t have a policy that closes off anyone from being selected,” Calveley said. “If you just look at previous Lions tours, we’ve had people come on a tour who haven’t been playing for a national side. Will Greenwood [in 1997] is a great example, even though we are going back a way there. In 2021, Finn Russell was based in France, so we don’t have any restrictions on selection.

“When we think about Owen, we think about someone who is one of the best players the Lions has ever had as a three-time tourist, and we wish him all the very best as he’s decided to step away from the international fold. Selection, as Andy says, is to happen in 18 months’ time.”

British and Irish Lions' Owen Farrell kicks a penalty during the third test of the 2017 British and Irish Lions tour at Eden Park, Auckland
Farrell has six caps over three tours for the Lions - PA/David Davies

Farrell would rank as the Lions’ most experienced fly-half and captain option next summer with a résumé that few other players can match. Form, however, will remain the sole barometer on which Farrell senior will make selection, regardless of whether it is for club or country. “It’s about form, it’s about watching the game properly,” Farrell said. “Selection, as far as that’s concerned, is the same as everyone else. No different.”

Asked about his son’s decision to step back from England, Farrell said that it was “his choice” and he would also support his move to Racing 92. “There’s no promises,” Farrell said. “It’s a short career. You want to do things that float your boat and make your family happy. It’s all about the memories you create, not just for yourself but for others as well. For some the thought of devoting yourself to one club is extra, extra special. Owen has that at Saracens but if things do change – and I don’t know whether they will or not – it’ll be for the right reasons or to do the right thing for whatever that person feels he needs to do to be happy.”

The Ireland head coach was selected for the Lions role by a panel including Calveley as well as former Lions Ieuan Evans, Ian McGeechan, Nigel Redman and Brian O’Driscoll. Calveley described Farrell, who toured twice as an assistant coach in 2013 and 2017, as the “outstanding candidate for this role”. Calveley also confirmed that Rugby Australia are contractually obliged to provide Wallabies to their Super Rugby franchises for the warm-up matches. Previous tours have been blighted by the Lions’ lack of sterner tests in the build-up.

Discussions have already begun about the potential tour to New Zealand in 2029, however Calveley revealed they are also exploring visiting other territories with no fixed agreement for the Lions to follow their traditional schedule. “There are no long-term commitments in place, other than the Lions has a position in the calendar that repeats every four years,” Calveley said. “We’re interested in establishing a relationship with teams in different geographies around the world. Now don’t take that as me saying we’re going to tour somewhere else any time soon, but we’ve established a relationship with Japan three years ago, we’re playing Argentina in Dublin before we go to Australia.

“Becoming more of a global proposition, and developing relationships with different geographies is really important to us. There is a piece of work we’re about to start called the ‘Beyond 25 project’, which is about what the Lions can do differently in future.”

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